WHEN COVID-19 separates you from the person you’ve loved for more than 72 years, it’s something to celebrate when you are together again.
Sam and Shirley Kleiman did so Tuesday.
Shirley, 94, who tested positive for the novel coronavirus last week, but was asymptomatic, was given a celebration parade when she was released from isolation at the Saul & Claribel Simkin Centre personal care home in Winnipeg.
At the conclusion of Shirley’s seven days of COVID-19 isolation, wearing a blue T-shirt emblazoned with ‘Virus Survivor,’ she travelled in her wheelchair down a long hallway, with staff on either side clapping their support and admiration.
Playing in the background were strains of the Bee Gees’ 1978 No. 1 hit Stayin’ Alive — a song released when the couple were in their late 40s.
At the far end, wearing a yellow gown, face mask and latex gloves, was Shirley’s biggest reward: her 94-year-old husband, Sam, whose eyes danced above his mask along with the rest of his body as he reached out and took her hand in his.
But, as Sam says (his wife would say it herself, too, if a stroke a few years ago hadn’t taken away her ability to speak): "It is what it is."
"It is an expression Shirley has. She would say it whenever we just had to suck it up. It’s just the way COVID works," Sam said. "We just go with the flow."
Laurie Cerqueti, Simkin Centre chief executive officer, said the celebration parades are done every time someone comes out of isolation — and staff look forward to them all.
"We’ve been doing recovery parades for our residents since our big outbreak in (pandemic) wave 2," said Cerqueti. "It is especially wonderful when you can reunite families, and these two are a true love story.
"We are so pleased Shirley and Sam are reunited."
However, Shirley is one of the residents who now has to stay in their room amid COVID-19 measures.
"She is not leaving her room but she can still see her husband," Cerqueti said, adding Sam is designated as her caregiver.
"We are allowing designated caregivers to come into the centre."
It’s not the first time the pair have been kept apart because of COVID. Shirley has lived at the centre for about four years since having a stroke; her husband still lives in his own place, but goes to see her every day.
During the pandemic’s first wave in spring 2020, all visitations to long-term care homes were stopped for weeks, in a effort to halt virus transmission. Worried family members were only able to see loved ones through closed windows.
Sam went to the centre every day to stand outside a window to see his wife. He would tap on the window and blow kisses. A centre care aide would bring a phone to Shirley’s ear so she could hear her husband’s voice.
At the time, Sam explained to a media outlet: "She’s not going anywhere, and as long as she’s not going anywhere, I’m not going anywhere."
Before the pandemic, Sam said the only thing which had ever kept them apart since they married in 1950 was his wife’s love of international travel.
"She would go off gallivanting with her cousin. Once they went to Hong Kong."
When asked why he didn’t join them, Sam said with a laugh: "I wasn’t invited."
Shirley may not have shown recent symptoms of COVID, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she didn’t have any issues, Sam said.
"She can’t vocalize," he said. "She is able to make herself understood, but she can’t converse. She just can’t tell anyone about any symptoms she might have had."
Sam said he’s looking forward to further festivities in the hopefully near-future.
"When her friends can come and see her — that’s when the real celebration will be," he said. "She has a lifetime of friends and they want to see her."
However, Sam isn’t critical about any of the COVID-19 restrictions the couple have faced.
"I can’t fault them — they are being ultra careful," he said. "There are about 200 residents there. Everyone has to be concerned about everybody else.
"And it is what it is, and it is what it should be."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.